It’s official: La Ciudad de Mexico is my favorite megalopolis. 22 million souls’ spoils spilt into this sinking city – drowning an ancient lakebed of people, cars and emissions. But this place is also a magical Mexican mole sauce – a simmering, spicy condensation of all the flavors that draw me to this proud país.
Seated at 2200 meters – the elevation of our Tahoe home – the Valle de Mexico is also mountainous sunny and beautifully benign. Their lake is long gone; in its place among the Catholic mass of humanity are sprinkled two millenia’s worth of the world’s largest and most significant pyramids, churches, buildings, plazas and parks. The food and its scene here are calor-ful, with celebrity chefs riffing on one of the world’s great cuisines, and street vendors serving sinceridad. Public transport is solid (though crowded), and the city feels as safe major US cities. Music wafts everywhere, all the time. Mexican art astounds, with the great muralists Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros paying homage to ancestral Aztec artists and architects and anthropols; Kahlo weaves in the spiritual and surreal. And if you can accept it as street art, the Chilango’s graffiti is gripping.
Much of contemporary Mexican art draws from its painfully rich history, spanning from the ancient Teotohuicans, Olmecs, Toltecs, Mayans and Aztecs to their proud progeny. They survived centuries of occupation and exploitation from Spain; suffered subsequent invasions from France and the US; endured dictators, corrupt politicos and narco-traffickers, and rebuilt from devastating earthquakes.
All this can be experienced next door, at bargain prices. Here we are travelling the globe, and perhaps the most splendid, affordable wonderland is just south of the border.
On Sunday 26th the Our Guanajuato bus returned us to the Northern bus station mid-day, and a clean, efficient Uber ride delivered us to our Airbnb apartment by 1pm… the Silicon Valley has been good for small Latin American entrepreneurs. Soon we were across the street into the Parque Alameda Central, walking east among the weekend crowds past the art noveau
façade of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and onto the overcrowded pedestrian thoroughfare
Avenida Francisco Madero. Just like that we had our first misfortune… a pickpocket left with Sue’s driver’s license and some pesos. We got over the indignation quickly and were grateful for the relatively inexpensive lesson… avoid the crowds, protect your valuables and have your guard up… henceforth we’ve had no such nasty experiences.
We took the afternoon to skim through the Zocalo – one of the world’s largest public spaces – watching the Aztec dancers, wandering in and out of the massive and wobbly Metropolitan Cathedral, and touring the Templo de Tlaloc, the remains of the Aztec capital, once strategically situated on an island in the center of the Valleys’ lakebed. Legend has it that the early Aztecs saw an eagle eating a snake atop a cactus, fulfilling Quetzalcoatl’s prophecy and indicating that this should be their capital. Later legends hold that Moctezuma mistook
Hernan Cortes for a returning Quetzalcoatl, easing his invasion… Cortez later tore down that temple to build the massive colonial square we see today… hardly cortes (polite).In the evening I dropped the boys off at a local taqueria while I shopped for groceries at a small bodega; then sue and I left them at home and zipped off to enjoy a mezcal-lubricated dinner at Amaya, one of the City’s hot new restaurants. You can’t really appreciate Quetzalcoatl’s or Mexico City without a good dose of mezcal.